Forget Raymond, Everybody Loves Renu!

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It is an honour to profile the indomitable Renu Sharma, the President and Founding Member of the Women’s Foundation Nepal (WFN), and share some of our encounters with this genuine powerhouse of a woman.

I’ve had the absolute joy of working closely alongside Renu in Nepal for the last nine months and she is without a doubt one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, and I think truly the nearest thing to a truly enlightened person I’ve ever met.

Renu in her orange scarf leading a WFN march for International Human Rights Day 2014

Renu in her orange scarf leading a WFN march for International Human Rights Day 2014

She’s one of those rarities – endlessly selfless and generous, always warm and glowing, never annoyed (except at injustice, of course!) and brimming with compassion. Not only that, she is sharp as a tack and fiercely intelligent, completely fearless and has a fire burning at her core for social equality.

Renu’s life almost reads like a fable – one of those stories you read but can hardly believe to be true. She was just 15 years old when she founded WFN back in 1988. One day while she was still at school, she was playing volleyball and noticed an elderly couple watching her team play. Friendly as always, she decided to speak to them, soon discovering that they were from a rural area nearby and had come to look for their nine year old daughter who they’d sent to work for a doctor’s household in Kathmandu; the girl had gone missing after the doctor had accused her of stealing gold from the house. Renu could not believe that a nine year old girl would steal from the doctor, so she decided to help the family locate the young girl. She gathered 14 of her fellow students and went to the doctors house to ask him what he had done with the girl. The doctor refused to meet them, so Renu marched straight to the office of a local politician. He wouldn’t help either. So she went to the police. They labelled her a troublemaker and told her to go away. Outraged, she put together a Committee of students – 45 in total – and established the ‘Helpless Women Protection Centre’, now the Women’s Foundation Nepal.

Renu 2014

Committee members discussed how to work towards solutions to issues primarily affecting women such as witch hunting and domestic violence. After three months searching for the girl, the Committee took the doctor to court – and won. As it turns out, he had sent her to work as, what Renu referred to as, a child slave at his sister’s house. Just like this, Renu had taken responsibility to find the missing girl and return her to her parents. She was just 15 years old!

Since 1988, Renu has grown WFN into an organisation providing a huge range of services and programs for women and their communities in Nepal. The shelter home in Kathmandu currently provides legal and psychological support as well as food and shelter for 150 women and children who’ve experienced domestic violence. WFN has district offices in Bhaktapur, Sunsari, Kavre, Jhapa, Sindhupalchok and Dolakha as well as a number of sub-offices throughout the country. They all run successful microcredit and savings circle programs, vocational education programs, as well as gender and leadership training for local communities. WFN also runs a weaving program providing training and jobs for local women, and advocates in a diversity of ways for raising the legal status of women and socialising new laws for women’s rights.

When I asked Renu how many times she’s been arrested for protesting against cases of rape and violence against women that law enforcement has left uninvestigated, she answers with a simple “too many times to count.” 

When I asked Renu how many times she’s been arrested for protesting against cases of rape and violence against women that law enforcement has left uninvestigated, she answers with a simple “too many times to count.” It’s baffling to think that despite this she has been able to achieve as much as she has. It just goes to show that nothing can stand in the way of a woman on a mission!

Did I tell you that all the while she’s been managing WFN, she has also gained a Masters in Social Science and a Bachelor of Laws?!

Renu planning with local women our response to sanitation and hygiene in Kathmandu's makeshift camps

Renu planning with local women our response to sanitation and hygiene in Kathmandu’s makeshift camps

When I asked her what her proudest achievement is, she laughed and said “well I don’t know about proudest, but it was certainly very funny!” and proceeded to tell me a story from many years ago when she and the other ‘WFN vigilantes’ took over a mostly male parliamentary sitting – and caused quite a stir. At the time there were over 100 laws discriminating against women and Renu was determined to let the Parliament know that this was NOT ok. In Nepal it is compulsory for members of parliament to wear hats when they sit. So, Renu took it upon herself to have a whole lot of hats embroidered with these 100+ laws and the ways in which they discriminated against women! When the men entered Parliament, they were ambushed by WFN, their hats removed, and promptly replaced with the hats that Renu had had manufactured – so that they were all visibly displaying these unequal laws on their heads! This stunt of political activism achieved quite a lotof media coverage and needless to say the members of Parliament were quite embarrassed. Rightly so, we say!

Renu’s vision is of a violence-free Nepal where all people, regardless of gender, can enjoy society equally. 

Of course, this matches our vision at The Global Women’s Project is – to create a world in which every woman lives in dignity and can enjoy the same opportunities to flourish as men. We are so proud to be supporting Renu and WFN as one of our two grassroots international partners. These partners have been carefully selected based on their long track record of transformative, community and women-led solutions to poverty, inequality and discrimination.

So how did our partnership come about? Our Founder, Kate, shares a little about how it all began:

“Renu came into my life in 2011– the connection was one that would leave an indelible mark on me.  It was in Nepal, working alongside her, that I began to see the impact of investing in and empowering women. In particular, I came to understand the critical role education and livelihoods played in creating pathways to a better future.

Kate & Renu in 2011.

Kate & Renu in 2011.

It was while I was interning there, that my vision for The Global Women’s Project came about. I wanted to be able to provide ongoing financial and technical support to grassroots partner organisations like WFN in developing countries. So, along with a small but mighty team of volunteers, we established the Global Women’s Project in late 2012 and officially launched 2013 with the Women’s Foundation of Nepal and Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre as our two international partners.

Renu is indefatigable; her resilience, grit and tenacity in the face of adversity is inspirational. Everything she does, she does wholeheartedly – this is still somewhat beyond my comprehension given that each day she wrestles against injustice as well as addressing the causes and consequences of gender inequality.  While many of us would have a broken spirit at the many challenges she faces, Renu soldiers on with a giant smile on her face.  She understands what it truly means to live authentically and for something much bigger than herself.”

We could not imagine anyone more worthy of our support or more capable of creating positive change for women and their communities in Nepal, than Renu and her organisation. We are committed to supporting WFN and the people of Nepal in whichever way we can during the emergency relief efforts but want to assure you that we’re not going anywhere – our long-term sustainable development programs for Nepali women and their families will continue once we are able to distribute the emergency assistance that is needed during this crisis period.

From all of the team, we thank you for your kind donations and hope you feel secure in the knowledge that Renu and WFN will ensure that your money goes to where it is most needed and that our response on the ground is tailored to meet the needs of women and their families in Nepal. We are posting regular updates and photos of our work providing emergency assistance to women and families on our Facebook page.

Thank you to everyone who has donated and supported us during this time. We are immensely grateful for all of your support. Namaste.

Renu and Briony distributing aid to districts badly affected by the earthquake

Renu and Briony distributing aid to districts badly affected by the earthquake

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